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Fearmongers Are Giving Photographers a Bad Name

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These three photographs have something in common: They are all about fear.

They are a reminder that every day, photographers are mistaken for perverts, terrorists, thieves, and other weirdos just because of the cameras around their necks. People seem to assume that we are “up to something.”

People who really are up to something probably don’t announce it by walking around with three-pound DSLRs hanging from their necks. I don’t know of an instance in which a person was injured by having their picture taken.

In fact, it seems to me that the only people who might be hurt by having their pictures taken would be those who might be, well, up to something.

Yelling at Kids — and Photographers

Lessons in more than tennis

This photograph was shot in London. We were walking through a park for pensioners and sat down on a bench to rest. We were facing a tennis court where a very militaristic guy was trying to teach kids how to play tennis.

As he shouted instructions to them, I took a few frames and realized there was little of interest. I stopped, but the instructor must have noticed me. He started shouting at me to stop immediately or he’d have me arrested.

“It’s against the law, you know. It’s a very serious offense here,” he barked before going back to yelling at the kids.

I seriously doubt that there is a law in England about taking pictures of children in public parks.

Keeping His Belly Private

A police officer objects to a photograph.

This photo was taken in Times Square in New York.  I noticed the cop’s belly protruding from the side of the building and took a shot before he noticed me.

“No pictures!” he shouted.

“But this is Times Square,” I replied.

“Keep moving, or I will run you in!”

So I shrugged and walked away.

I seriously doubt that there is a law in New York about taking pictures of police officers.

Not-So-Public Park?

West Palm Beach skateboard Park

This picture was taken at a skateboard park in West Palm Beach, Fla. It was a public park and as I was walking by, this kid shouted at me to take his picture so I did.

I shot a few and decided to go inside and take a few more. But as I walked through the gate a young lady asked in a very officious tone what I was doing. I said I just wanted to take a few pictures.

“Are you a parent?” she asked. I said I was not; I was just a photographer doing what photographers do. She said it was forbidden for people to take pictures of the kids unless they were parents. She told me to leave.

A public park. In a city of which I am a resident and to which I pay taxes to support parks such as this.

I seriously doubt that there is a law in West Palm Beach about taking pictures in public parks.

Privacy and Photography: Where Does It End?

Over the past few years I have noticed that cameras are now forbidden in shopping malls, stores and museums. Who are we trying to protect? And what are we trying to protect them from?

I used to love taking photographs of people in museums, but that is becoming more difficult. I can understand why some museums forbid using flash, but just taking pictures is also forbidden. Some museums even insist you check your camera at the door.

There is a part of me that wants to resist, to confront, to ignore these people, but it’s simply not my style. All I can do is write about it.

Have you been confronted with this attitude? What did you do?

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61 Comments To "Fearmongers Are Giving Photographers a Bad Name"

#1 Comment By Bert On December 20, 2011 @ 9:46 pm

For those visitors to NYC, if a cop ever stops you from taking photos in a public place, simply note his badage number - it is located on the top of his badge which will be above the chest pocket of his uniform -- and make sure that he sees you writing it down. Then spend a few minutes to file a complaint via email, if not in person about this. Because there is NO law against taking photos in public places. And every time that you allow a police officer or some pay-per-hour security guy to bother you will this nonsense, you are actually helping to encourage them. Put your foot down, be polite, but be firm, and these people will back down.

#2 Comment By oj On December 23, 2011 @ 12:46 pm

"She said it was forbidden for people to take pictures of the kids unless they were parents. She told me to leave. A public park. In a city of which I am a resident and to which I pay taxes to support parks such as this. I seriously doubt that there is a law in West Palm Beach about taking pictures in public parks."

There may not be a law, but there may be a rule in the park, since it sounds like it has a monitored entrance gate or similar. Just because somewhere is "public" does not mean it does not have rules. You can't pitch a tent in the skatepark either. If you don't like the rule, then petition to have it changed instead of whining about it because you're a "taxpayer".

#3 Comment By Neilzonwheelz On December 28, 2011 @ 11:00 am

I remember a visit to NYC a couple of years ago, behind Columbia university was a brownstone building with a sculptured relief - with some reference to a bush. At the time I thought it humorous given what President Bush was doing. I took a picture of it when a female security officer came out and started yelling for me to delete the pictures. I said no because it was in a public place, there were no signs erected to say pictures couldn't be taken. She threatened to have the police come and arrest me, I said go ahead - even though I was a visiting tourist to USA. I ambled down to Grant's tomb but never saw a police person but the experience infuriated me. If I do take any street scenes now, it is usually with a large zoom lens so I'm not in their face but I always am uncomfortable taking people pics. It is interesting to note though, I was watching a photography podcast recently and the presenter said that if a policeman asks for you to stop or delete a photo and you refuse it can leave you open to arrest for disobeying a lawful command - something to ponder.....

#4 Comment By Paul Rattay On December 28, 2011 @ 1:56 pm

Re: "If I do take any street scenes now, it is usually with a large zoom lens so I'm not in their face..."

A funny moment I had and probably indicative of the time we're in and the use of pro or pro looking equipment.

I was at the Cabo San Lucas airport waiting for my flight when the most amazing sunset began to occur straight across the runway, as we were boarding. I pulled my camera out to photograph it and security forced me to put it away. It was a Canon 7D with a Tokina 11-16 on it. As I complied, I turned to say sorry and saw not 1, not 2 but 5 others taking the same photo with point and shoots. They were not asked to put their equipment away.

I think the perception is that you are taking advantage of people or you are some sort of highly paid paparazzi (ha!) sometimes.

I was perturbed so I grabbed my camera and snapped one shot only as I boarded. This is the shot:
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Wished it wasn't so rushed but what ya gonna do.

#5 Comment By n/a On December 29, 2011 @ 4:43 am

It is understandable that this is a hot topic, because the recent ubiquity of cameras and the internet is only a relatively recent phenomenon, and society has not had sufficient time to evolve to catch up. I see two distinct issues, the legal and the ethical. Legal is usually pretty clear, if you take the time to find out the laws of the country you are in. I won't discuss the legal issue, but if you want to stand up for your legal rights, you should expect to get hassled for it, just like people protesting legally might experience as well.

As for the moral and social aspect, I think that taking an image of someone is roughly equivalent to staring at them for some time. So if I take a wide angle photo of a scene in public, socially I think that is similar to standing back and looking at the scene, which no one should reasonably care about, whether there are kids in the photo, or people having an argument, or a policeman, or whatever. If however, I take a zoomed in photo of the scene or a subject, or I go and take a wider angle photo from close range, that is equivalent to standing at the location which would let my eyes see that same image, for a decent length of time. And socially, that is unacceptable for many particular subject or scenes. You would not go and stand a metre from someone's legs, or close up to someone's child, or two metres from a policeman, and stare at that scene for a minute or more, you would know society doesn't find that acceptable, although it might technically be legal. So, I like to use that parallel, even though it is not perfect. To feel morally and socially OK with what you are doing, imagine whether or not it would be OK to stand in a position with your eyes able to take in the same image that you just photographed, for a significant length of time (not just a passing glance). If society would be OK with that, you probably won't run into to many problems taking the photo.

I know that you could take a wide angle photo and simply crop in later so that it looked like a close up. But that does have some limitations, and anyway, you can't do much about that. You simply can't protect your kids or your privacy in the modern world from someone taking a 24Mpx wide angle photo from way over the street and cropping much closer later, unless of course they do it for a long time, which ought to become stalking.

#6 Comment By carl warren On January 4, 2012 @ 2:42 am

I guess it is OK for the shopping centers, Museums and other place to have cameras but not the citizen Hmm ? what going on double standards ?

#7 Comment By try On January 4, 2012 @ 6:36 am

interesting articles to read for high school students

#8 Comment By Andy On January 15, 2012 @ 4:23 pm

Jj and others of the same (small) mindset.

I suppose the photographers who took these shots were all "creeps" as well were they.
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It is ignorance and small mindedness such as yours which is going to destroy many aspects of street photography and also destroy many parents enjoyment of their own childrens lives.
Because of people such as you there are now many schools, sports clubs etc which will not allow parents to record their childrens achievements.

I hope that you are well satisfied.

#9 Comment By Brian Sahagun On March 4, 2012 @ 11:21 pm

What will happen when one day people could take a real memory photograph and print it? Will there be flash lights à la "Men in Black" carried by the police? Everything in public that we can see and remember should also be free to photograph.

The one spying on you while sunbathing naked in your backyard is the Google satellite.

#10 Comment By Glenn Thompson On June 7, 2012 @ 6:24 pm

Fantastic content for reading & the photos used are very nice... Great done

#11 Comment By Danny G On May 11, 2013 @ 4:24 am

All of you can keep arguing. You folks spend so much time debating what is right or wrong to do while photographing. Meanwhile I am out in the world photographing and taking all the great photographic opportunity you have all missed.
As a photographer I have a vision, and that vision must be expressed via necessary means, photography. So keep bickering folks! I will be out photographing the magic of the world!

P.S. I believe you all miss the point of straight photography.